Many people are surprised to learn that the fiction in Patriarch Run is premised on two under-reported, existential threats to our civilization. Over the course of the last 100 years, our society has unwittingly evolved to become absolutely dependent on a vulnerable critical infrastructure. As we learn in the story, 100 years ago you didn't need electricity to feed the population. That's because the "pre-electrical" carrying capacity of the planet was less than 2 billion people. Our vulnerable infrastructure has increased the planet's carrying capacity to 7.5 billion.
The bad guy in my story intends to commit mass murder on a scale never seen before in human history by using a sophisticated cyberattack to take down the power grid. I wish that vulnerability were fiction. But it’s not. You can actually kill a lot of people this way.
Lest that be dismissed as fear mongering, I’ve included this video from Ted Koppel, a respected journalist, about the subject.
In addition to a cyberattack, there are several mechanisms of destruction that could bring down the power grid and trigger an apocalyptic scenario like the one outlined in the book, including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, physical sabotage, and a coronal mass ejection. That last event is naturally occurring and does not require any human malice or intent. As a matter of fact, on a timeline as large as the sun's, such events are routine.
I’ve included a brief NASA video below to show what a coronal mass ejection looks like.
I carefully researched the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure and depicted that vulnerability with great realism in the story. Then I had some of the leading experts in the country check the accuracy of my work. You can find a few of their endorsements here.
The power grid (or damage to it) can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. In a worst-case scenario, the events outlined above have the potential to destroy the power grid permanently. If that worst-case were to be actualized somehow, the grid couldn't be fixed. Not ever.
How can that be?
The critical hardware that would be damaged in such an event cannot be easily replaced. For example, the 2,100 large transformers of our power grid are handmade and take years to manufacture when our infrastructure is working perfectly. Society would collapse long before all the replacement transformers could be installed.
Without the use of widespread, reliable electricity, we could not grow, process, and transport enough food to feed the population. We could not distribute clean drinking water to our cities or provide sanitation or healthcare. There would be no commerce as we have come to know it. Such a collapse would probably result in widespread starvation, the reintroduction of diseases vanquished by modern sanitation, unprecedented social unrest, and a skyrocketing mortality rate.
And it gets worse.
The sudden loss of the grid would cause industrial explosions, producing plumes of toxic clouds. Without the delivery of diesel fuel, the backup generators at the country's nearly 100 commercial nuclear reactors would stop working. However, there is no shutting down the half-life of a radioactive isotope. So without functioning cooling pumps, the radioactive fuel would melt through the reactor cores. In other words, many our nuclear facilities would go Fukushima.
I know that sounds bad. That’s because it is. If you want to learn more about how vulnerable we are, you can read my story Patriarch Run. You can also watch three additional videos below. I’d recommend that you start with the National Geographic documentary. The other two videos are from credible sources, as well: NASA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
You can also search the Vulnerable Infrastructure category of my blog to find more resources on this topic and to engage me on the matter. The material below is from the discussion guide found at the back of Patriarch Run.
Imagine a world in which the power went out for an extended period of time. Let’s say for months. How would you eat? Drink? What do you think would happen to your community as the weeks went by? Remember, fuel production is as vulnerable as the grid.
- This blog post offers a good overview of the issue and includes expert interviews, a summary of the EMP Commission Report, links to other official reports, and all kinds of resources. It's a great starting point.
- And you can find one of the most authoritative books on the subject here.
Below are a few resources you can explore if you want to learn more about the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure to a coronal mass ejection, a cyberattack, or an EMP attack. Joe Weiss and the authors of the EMP Commission Report are among the experts who helped me with Patriarch Run.